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New Jersey truck accident: Sleep apnea the cause of some crashes

The trucking industry is pretty highly regulated and for good reason. Commercial vehicles can be found in large numbers in New Jersey and elsewhere, which does pose a risk to public safety. Truckers are required to pass medical examinations and abide by doctor's orders if they want to obtain and keep their licenses. Unfortunately, for some medical conditions -- such as sleep apnea -- this is not always happening. Sleep apnea leads to driver fatigue, which can lead to a truck accident.

Sleep apnea is a medical condition in which a person stops breathing while asleep. This is usually caused by an obstruction in the throat that can partially or fully block the airway, causing a person to either struggle to breath or stop breathing altogether. When this happens, the body forces itself to wake up in order to begin breathing again. This interrupts the sleep cycle, depriving people of REM and deep stage sleep which is needed in order to feel refreshed the next day. Over time, this disruption in the sleep cycle can lead to extreme fatigue and a myriad of other health problems.

There are various ways to treat sleep apnea, the most common being with a CPAP machine. This is a device that is used with a mask that forces air into a person's airway, keeping the airway free from obstruction and allowing an individual to breath without issue and get into the deeper stages of sleep. While highly effective, not all individuals who are prescribed CPAP can adjust to wearing the device and refuse treatment. For truck drivers, though, failure to use a prescribed medical device such as a CPAP can result in the loss of their driving privileges.

It is believed that 28 percent of all truckers suffer from some form of sleep apnea. Those who are still driving without being treated do risk causing serious accidents. If a truck accident can be attributed to untreated sleep apnea or any other medical issue, the driver and his or her employer may be held accountable. Victims of such incidents may pursue legal actions in a New Jersey civil court in an effort to seek compensation for their losses.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Sleep apnea a tough problem for government, transportation industry", Mary Wisniewski, May 29, 2016

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